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STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

Orange Crush

Lindros' Sudden Impact Is Leaving the Rangers in Stitches (and Bandages) in the Eastern Finals

May 18, 1997|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — Flyer center Eric Lindros left his mark on Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals in many ways. One of those marks, above the left eye of New York Ranger winger Luc Robitaille, required 20 stitches to close.

Lindros' robust hitting, coupled with effective playmaking that resulted in three assists, made him unstoppable in the Flyers' 3-1 victory Friday. The Rangers, while professing confidence they can rebound in Game 2 today at the CoreStates Center, aren't sure how to handle Lindros. They only know they must devise a plan before he overruns them on the ice and on the score sheet.

"That's the million-dollar question," Ranger Coach Colin Campbell said Saturday when asked how to neutralize the Flyers' 6-foot-4, 236-pound center. "If there is a way to stop him, I can't say right now. It's not going to be one player. It's got to be a team approach.

"He led. He was physical and he drove to the net and he set up their goals. He did everything."

Although Campbell called Lindros "a mean guy, could be one of the meanest in the league," for having high-sticked Ranger defenseman Doug Lidster and inflicting a body-slam that drove Robitaille's face into the ice, he acknowledged it doesn't matter if Lindros exceeded the limit of the NHL's murky laws.

"He plays the way Eric Lindros should," Campbell said. "There's nothing wrong with the way he plays. You've got to play that way this time of year."

That's not quite what he said Friday when he declared Lindros deliberately hit Lidster in the face. "Nothing he does is accidental," Campbell said.

Lindros scoffed at Campbell's assertion. "Nice of him to step into my body," Lindros said. "I didn't want to high-stick Lidster. Who wants to take a penalty when it's already four on four? That makes no sense.

"I think [Campbell] is trying to work the media. It's all part of the game he wants to play. He's having fun with it. Great. . . . You can go through history and see Mark Messier and a number of players on their team who have done things. [Campbell] is trying maybe to get into the heads of the referees.

"I'm not different than a lot of guys. All this is, is a coach trying to use [reporters] to influence the officiating. That's the bottom line."

Robitaille also said Lindros' hit on him wasn't unusually vicious. "He's bigger and he plays real big. He uses his force and is a great player," Robitaille said. "For him to help his team, that's the way he's got to play. But that doesn't make him invincible. We know we didn't play as well as we should have and we've got to adjust a few things."

Among those adjustments might be for Campbell to stop trying to play mind games. If Campbell intended his insults to distract Lindros, that failed too. "I felt really out of my game [Friday] night," Lindros said in a sarcastic tone. "We've got to rise above it and just play hockey. There's not a whole lot to it."

Said Flyer Coach Terry Murray: "I just think Eric went out and played a good hockey game. He plays hard. He's going to hit people and he takes his hits. I don't think there's been anything we haven't seen in the last couple of years. The intensity he brings makes us certainly a better hockey club, and everybody's going to ride Eric's coattails. You've got to show toughness at this time of year and he's handling everything very well."

Lindros is handling Campbell's psychological ploys better than the Rangers handled the Flyers' hitting or fast tempo Friday. The Rangers took only six shots in each of the first two periods and couldn't get anything past Garth Snow until Robitaille flipped a backhander past him with 9.7 seconds left.

"We hadn't seen that kind of speed against us for a while," Robitaille said. "We adjusted after the first period but by then we were down, 2-0.

"We'll play with more emotion. We know [today] is an even more important game. Every little play for us can make a difference in the game and we've got to play like that. If everybody gives a little more, I think it's going to be different at the end of the game."

Messier said the Rangers must be quicker and more assertive than in Game 1 and play better team defense. "I think we got into such a routine in the other series [against Florida and New Jersey], this was a transition for us," he said. "We got caught flat-footed and our passing wasn't as sharp. As the game went on, it got a little better.

"We need to play [Lindros] hard, but we need to play everybody hard. He's not an intimidating factor, but you've got to be aware of him at all times, the same way you've got to be aware of a guy like [Mighty Duck winger Paul] Kariya. Great players like that can do great things when you give them an opening and some room."

Semifinal Notes

Flyer center Joel Otto, who sat out Friday while still recovering from a badly broken nose, skated Saturday and is expected to play today. . . . The Rangers will be without right wing Patrick Flatley, who strained rib cartilage Friday when he went to hit a Flyer and missed, and instead hit the boards. He is expected to be out seven to 10 days. In previous rounds, the Rangers lost forwards Bill Berg (broken leg) and Niklas Sundstrom (broken arm). . . . The Flyers had a full practice Saturday but the Rangers' skate was optional, and most players did not participate.

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